We at Musicalypse have known and loved Anneke van Giersbergen for many years and many projects, from THE GENTLE STORM and AYREON, back to THE GATHERING, and onward to pretty much anything she’s ever done with Devin Townsend. However, the one thing that’s never quite clicked has been her solo music, at least for me personally; so when the band VUUR was announced, anticipation ensued! Not only was the legendary vocalist going to be heading back into heavy waters with her music, but she had some of AYREON‘s absolutely fantastic musicians with her, including the incredible Ed Warby on drums, Jord Otto and Ferry Duijsens on guitars, and Johan van Stratum on bass. Do any of those names sound familiar? They might, if you’ve been following any of Arjen Lucassen/AYREON‘s work in the past few years.
VUUR‘s debut album, titled “In this Moment We are Free – Cities,” promised eleven tracks that would in some way capture the spirit and/or feeling of cities that van Giersbergen has traveled to throughout her life. The songs may be about the vibe she gets from a place, the history, or another significant event, meaning the album should be a bit of an adventure. As I have complained on many occasions in the past, I wish promo albums came with lyrics, because it would help so much more to get a feel for the songs.
The album opens with “My Champion – Berlin,” which you should know by now from its music video. It starts with some straight-up old-school heavy guitars, and the vocals are immediately that style of ethereal beautiful that only van Giersbergen can manage. There is a ton of vibrato, and they’re not afraid to slow it down a bit towards the end.
An even heavier intro starts “Time – Rotterdam,” which is the only city from her home country (the Netherlands) on the album. There is a mention of “days gone by” in the lyrics, which may somehow tie into “Days Go By – London,” or could just be a coincidence. This song sticks to a fairly simple formula, and is perhaps a bit longer than it needs to be. “The Martyr and the Saint – Beirut” stands out as one of the most unique tracks on the album with great variation in vocals with beautiful layering. The rhythm guitars feel familiar, while the proggy heavy sound of this song is really nice overall.
Another one of the better songs is “The Fire – San Francisco,” where she does some wonderful parts, doing some sort of up-and-down vocals with almost DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT-esque vocals in the back (by that I refer to her parts from DTP, as styled by Townsend), and then goes on to hit some absolutely gorgeous high notes. “Freedom – Rio” is a more traditional heavy rock/light metal song and manages to come across as one of the most beautiful songs on the album without exactly being what I’d call a ballad. This song also has the titular line, “In this moment we are free” accompanied by some catchy, gentle guitar, and the vocal layering becomes similar to some of van Giersbergen‘s parts in AYREON songs.
The first song that the band had released was the aforementioned “Days Go By – London.” I think this song works as a pretty good introduction to the album on the whole, expressing the band’s sound fairly accurately. The guitar sound from the beginning you’ll hear already before this song, and while it’s not the best song on the album, it shows off a lot of what they’re about.
“Sail Away – Santiago” is another basic hard rock/metal song, and one of the least notable tracks on the album. “Valley of Diamonds – Mexico City” has an almost Goth/alternative-rock intro and stays as a rather catchy rock song without dipping too deep into the heavy aspects. Bonus points here to the varying rhythms that Ed Warby is able to maintain so effortlessly, and for the guitar solos yet again.
Finnish locals are likely most excited for “Your Glorious Light Will Shine – Helsinki,” especially considering how Finland is not exactly known for light. It’s only a theory, but I suspect she might be talking about the people and their beauty, rather than the actual physical light the country lacks in winter. The intro to this one is more orchestral than anything yet, yet maintains the heavy rhythmic guitars and wonderful layered vocals that the rest of the album boasts. I’m not sure if I like this one a lot objectively or subjectively. It’s one of the more unique songs, so perhaps it’s a bit of both.
The album starts its wind-down with “Save Me – Istanbul,” which has an appropriate hint of eastern music in the lead guitar line that helps it stand out a bit. The song hits its peak power around 3 minutes in and when van Giersbergen sings “save me” it sounds like a choir of her – cool. The album then ends with “Reunite! – Paris,” which is by far the slowest song, and also one of the most lovely, building up to a fairly good finale to the album.
The one problem I’ve had a bit with van Giersbergen‘s solo music is that the songs tend to be a bit indistinguishable from one another. This problem persists a bit on this album – the sound in itself is very diverse, but the songs still all fit the band’s style so well that they become a bit same-sounding if you don’t pay attention. The solos are fantastic, but sometimes the songs get a bit repetitive and could maybe use one chorus fewer. As well, the album maintains a fairly steady page throughout, never particularly kicking up the energy or turning it down until the end. That said, the album has a lot of passion and the musicianship is excellent across the board. I suspect that if you’re a fan of her voice in general or if you’re a bigger fan of her solo stuff than I have been, you’ll love this new, heavy album. And even if you’re not a big fan of her solo material, I’d recommend giving this a play-through or at least seeing it live, as I think I enjoyed it even more at Tuska this year than on the album itself.
Written by Bear Wiseman
- My Champion – Berlin
- Time – Rotterdam
- The Martyr and the Saint – Beirut
- The Fire – San Francisco
- Freedom – Rio
- Days Go By – London
- Sail Away – Santiago
- Valley of Diamonds – Mexico
- Your Glorious Light will Shine – Helsinki
- Save Me – Istanbul
- Reunite! – Paris
Anneke van Giersbergen – lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Jord Otto – guitars
Ferry Duijsens – guitars
Johan van Stratum – bass
Ed Warby – drums
Marcella Bovio – vocals